Life Expectancy / Page 28

Page 28

"Well, I'm glad he's not the Antichrist," I said. "I can just imagine what the load in his diapers would smell like."

Even in that moment of joy, Beezo was in our minds. We weren't whistling through a haunted graveyard; we were laughing through it.

Having become the new chief of police, Huey Foster provided protection for Lorrie and baby Andy at the hospital. The guards-off-duty officers, out of uniform-were instructed to draw as little attention to themselves as possible.

A day and a half later, when I took my wife and newborn home, another policeman was already stationed in the house, waiting for us.

The chief assigned the officers in twelve-hour shifts. They came and went as unobtrusively as possible, through our garage, hiding in the backseat of Dad's car or mine.

Huey acted not solely out of concern for us but with the hope that he would snare Konrad Beezo.

After a nervous week, when the clown did not come, Huey could no longer justify the expense of providing us protection.

Besides, if his pastry-addicted men gained any more weight, they wouldn't be able to button their pants.

For the remainder of that first month, Dad and Mom and Grandma moved in with us from next door. Safety in numbers.

We relied also on out-of-town muscle from the Colorado Guild of Bread and Pastry Professionals. These guys put on weight, too, but being experienced bakers and lacking our family's thoroughbred metabolism, they were wise enough to wear only pants with expandable waistlines.

At the end of the month, the Guild men had done as much as they could, and our gallant colleagues went home.

Dad and Mom moved back into their house with Weena.

We'd begun to think that Konrad Beezo might be dead. With his abiding rage against the world, his paranoia, his arrogance, and his propensity for homicidal action, he should have gotten himself killed decades ago.

If not dead, he might be residing these days in a cozy insane asylum. Perhaps he had assumed one too many false identities and now lived in a delirium of split personalities, believing himself to be Clappy and Cheeso and Slappy and Burpo and Nutsy and Bongo, all at once.

Although I feared that calamity would befall us as soon as we became convinced that Beezo was gone forever, we could not remain in a state of high anxiety for the rest of our existence. Even mere wariness eventually became an unsustainable burden.

We had to get on with life.

By July 14, 2001, when Andy celebrated his first birthday, we felt that we had safely crossed a divide between a world haunted by Beezo and a world free of him.

Life was good and getting better. Three and a half years old, Annie had long ago been potty trained. Lucy, over two years old, had just graduated from a potty to a potty seat on the grown-up toilet, and was enthusiastic about it. Andy knew the purpose of a potty but thoroughly disdained it ... until gradually he began to recognize the pride that Lucy took in her ascension to a real throne.

Annie and Lucy shared a room across the hall from us. Annie liked yellow, Lucy pink; so we had painted the room half and half, with a dividing line down the middle.

Already something of a tomboy, Annie sneeringly called Lucy's half of the room girly. Not yet having mastered sarcasm, Lucy judged her sister's half stupid lemon.

Both girls believed that a monster lived in their closet.

According to Lucy, this beast had a lot of hair and big teeth. She said it ate children and then vomited them up. Lucy was afraid of being eaten but more afraid of being vomit.

At only twenty-eight months, she had a preference for neatness and order that other toddlers not only didn't exhibit but didn't understand. Everything in her side of the room had its proper place. When I made her bed, she followed after me, smoothing the wrinkles out of the spread.

We figured that Lucy would be either a brilliant mathematician or a world-famous architect, or the subject of intense interest to psychologists studying obsessive-compulsive disorder.

To the extent that Lucy thrived on order, Annie luxuriated in disorder. When I made her bed, she followed after me, "smunching" it to give it a more relaxed look.

According to Annie, the monster in the closet had scales, lots of tiny teeth, red eyes, and claws that it painted blue. Her monster, like Lucy's, ate children-not in a gulp, as did Lucy's terror, but slowly, savoring them nibble by nibble.

Although we assured the girls that no monsters lived in the closet, any parent knows that such assurances are not particularly effective.

Lorrie designed a fancy sign on her computer, printed it in red and black, and taped it to the inside of the closet door: monsters, pay attention! you are not allowed into this bedroom! if you came in through a crack in the closet floor, you must leave at once the same way! we do not allow your type in this house!

This comforted them for a while. Irrational fears, however, are the most persistent kind.

Not just in children, either. In a world where rogue states ruled by madmen are seeking nuclear weapons, look at how many people fear a tad too much fat in their diets and one part per ten million of pesticide in their apple juice to a greater degree than they fear suitcase bombs.

To further reassure the girls, we stood Captain Fluffy, a teddy bear in a military-style cap, on a chair beside the closet door. The captain served as a sentry on whom they could depend to protect them.

"He's just a dumb bear," Annie said.

"Yeah. Dumb," Lucy agreed.

"He can't scare off monsters," Annie said. "They'll eat him."

"Yeah," Lucy concurred. "Eat him and puke him up."

"On the contrary," Lorrie told them, "the captain is very smart and comes from a long line of bears that have for centuries guarded good little girls. They have never lost one child."

"Not one?" Annie asked dubiously.

"Not one," I assured her.

"Maybe they lost some but lied about it," Annie said.

"Yeah," Lucy said. "Lied about it."

"Does Captain Fluffy look like a liar?" Lorrie asked.

Annie studied him. Then: "No. But neither does Gran-gran Weena, but Grandpa says she didn't either know any guy blew himself up with a fart like she says."

"Yeah," Lucy said, "blew up with a fart."

I said, "Grandpa never accused Gran-gran of lying. He just said she sometimes exaggerates a little."

"Captain Fluffy doesn't look like a liar, and he isn't a liar," Lorrie said, "so you should apologize to him."

Annie chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "I'm sorry, Captain Fluffy."

"Yeah. Fluffy," Lucy said.

In addition to leaving on a Pooh night-light, we gave each girl a small flashlight. As everyone knows, a beam of light will vaporize either a vomiting or a nibbling monster.

Twelve months passed, another sweet year crowded with bright memories, without real terror.

Although three of the five dates on the back of the circus pass remained in the future, we could not assume that any of the ordeals ahead of me had anything to do with Konrad Beezo. Prudence required that we be more alert for threats that might come from sources having nothing to do with the clown or his imprisoned son.

Twenty-eight years had passed since the night of my birth. If still alive, Beezo would be nearly sixty. He might still be as insane as a maze-crazed lab rat, but time had to have taken a toll on him as it does on everyone. Surely he wouldn't be as passionate in his hatred, as energetic in his fury.

As the summer of 2002 waned, I felt that we had most likely seen the last of Konrad Beezo.

By September, when our Andy was twenty-six months old, he had a closet monster of his own. His was a child-eating clown.

Our apprehension at this revelation cannot be exaggerated. Although our house didn't easily lend itself to such retrofitting, we contracted to have an alarm system installed, wiring all doors and windows.

We hadn't told the kids about Konrad Beezo, Punchinello, or anything regarding the violence those men had perpetrated and the threats they'd made. Annie, Lucy, and Andy were far too young to understand any of that macabre history, too young to be burdened with it. The scariest thing they could handle at their age was a closet monster or three.

We considered that they might have heard something of the story from a playmate. This was unlikely, because our kids never played with other children out of our sight.

We had never felt we could afford to assume for certain that Konrad Beezo was dead or moldering in a booby hatch; therefore, one of us

always remained with the kids when they were at play, and often one or both of my parents were there, as well. We watched. We listened. Surely we would have heard.

Maybe Andy had seen a bad clown in a movie, on TV, in a cartoon. Although we monitored their exposure to packaged entertainment and tried to protect them from a media that seemed hell-bent on corrupting them in a hundred different ways, we could not be certain beyond all doubt that we had not slipped up and that impressionable little Andy hadn't glimpsed an evil clown with a chainsaw.

The boy provided no insight into the inspiration for his fear. From his perspective, the situation was simple:

There was a clown.

The clown was bad.

The bad clown wanted to eat him.

The bad clown hid in his closet.

If he fell asleep, the bad clown would munch on him.

"Can't you smell him?" Andy asked.

We couldn't catch a whiff.

We put a solemn sign on the inside of his closet door, warning off the cannibal clown. We presented Andy with a teddy bear named Sergeant Snuggles, his own version of Captain Fluffy. He received his own special monster-vaporizing flashlight with an easy-on switch for small uncertain hands.

In addition, we put in the alarm system, purchased small aerosol cans of pepper spray and secreted them throughout the house in places high enough to be beyond the children's reach, purchased four tasers and distributed them in similar fashion. We added second deadbolts to the front door, the back door, and the door between the kitchen and the garage.

Because Grandpa Josef had not mentioned January 12, 1998, in his predictions-the night that Beezo had attempted to kidnap Lorrie, deliver our first child himself, and abscond with the baby-but had

cited only January 19, when our house had been burned down, we could only assume that he might have also failed to warn us of another bad day closely associated with the upcoming third date on his list. For at least two weeks prior, we would need to work ourselves into a state of judicious paranoia.

We had enjoyed nearly four years of peace, of normalcy. Now, as the third of the five dates approached-Monday, December 23, 2002-we felt a long shadow falling across us, a shadow out of time, with its origins in August 9, 1974.

am a fool for Christmas and a cherished customer of every purveyor of seasonal tinsel and festoonery.

From the day after Thanksgiving until early January, on our roof a life-size spotlighted Santa stands with his bag of gifts at chimney side waving to passersby.

The chimney, eaves, windows, and porch posts of our house are outlined with so many strings of multicolored lights that we are no doubt visible to astronauts in orbit.

In the front yard, to one side of the walk, stands an elaborate nativity scene with the holy family, wise men, angels, camels. One ox, one donkey, two cows. One dog, five doves, nine mice.

To the other side of the walk stand elves, reindeer, snowmen, carolers. They are all mechanical, motorized, in motion, producing a hushed symphony of ticking clockworks and humming transformers.

On our front door hangs a wreath that might be heavier than the

door itself. Evergreen boughs twined with holly, decorated with pine cones, walnuts, silver bells, gold beads, baubles, bangles, spangles.

Inside, for those six weeks, I cannot tolerate an unornamented surface or a drab corner. From every door header and ceiling-mounted light fixture dangles mistletoe.

Although the eve of Christmas Eve, December 23, was supposed to be a day to dread that year, the decorations were unpacked, polished, hung, strung, and activated.

Life is too short, and Christmas comes but once a year. We were not going to allow the likes of Konrad Beezo to take the shine off our celebration.

On the evening of December 22, we intended to have Mom and Dad and Grandma to our house for dinner at nine o'clock. They would stay through the night, helping us stand watch after midnight, when the clock brought us to the third day in Grandpa Josef's list.

By seven o'clock, the table was set with Christmas china, emerald green cut-crystal goblets, gleaming silverware, and candles in glass chimneys shaped like chubby snowmen. In the center were miniature poinsettias tucked among clusters of white chrysanthemums.

At 7:20, the telephone rang. I answered it in the kitchen, where Lorrie and I were preparing dinner.

"Jimmy," said Huey Foster, "we've just got some good news about Konrad Beezo you'll want to hear."

"This isn't much in the yuletide spirit," I told the chief, "but I hope the bozo turned up dead somewhere."

"The news isn't quite that cheerful, but almost. I'm here in my office with an FBI agent name of Porter Carson, out of their Denver division. He needs to speak with you and Lorrie as soon as possible, and I know you'll want to hear what he's got."

"Bring him around right now," I said.

"Can't bring him but I'll send him," Huey said. "Tonight's the department Christmas party. The eggnog's nonalcoholic, but as chief, I've

got the authority to spike it, and then I pass out year-end bonuses. I gave Porter directions, but he won't even need 'em if he just follows the glow of your Christmas display."

When I hung up, Lorrie was frowning at me. "Beezo?"

I told her what Huey had said.

"Better hustle the kids a little farther out of the way," she suggested. "We don't want them overhearing this."

Our three elves were in the living room, sprawled on the floor with boxes of crayons and a six-foot Christmas banner that featured an extravagantly ornamented message-we love you, santa claus- which Lorrie had designed on her computer. Their assignment: Color it with care and with love so that on Christmas Eve, the good Claus would be more disposed to leave them a truckload of gifts.

We are fiendishly clever at devising tasks to keep a trio of hyperactive munchkins occupied.

Annie was almost five that Christmas, Lucy three months short of four, and Andy two and a half. Frequently, I'm proud to say, they could play together in an atmosphere of civility with a chaos-meter reading of no more than four on a scale of one to ten.

That evening they were especially calm. Annie and Lucy had made a competition of the coloring and were bent to it intensely, tongues pinched between their teeth. Having lost interest in the banner, Andy was crayoning his toenails.

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